How to Teach Constellations to Preschool Kids

Young children looking through telescope
... JacquelineSouthby/iStock/Getty Images

During the preschool years children are developing a deeper understanding of scientific concepts by using inquiry as a learning tool. While your 3- to 5-year-olds aren't ready to tackle astrophysics, they are able to recognize, identify and discuss objects in the night sky. Play to the students' natural curiosity to explore by creating constellation lessons that use a hands-on, discovery-centered approach. Include activities that bridge different content areas such as literacy, language, math and the arts.

1 Create Specific Learning Goals

Although you want to reinforce the basic science skills that your preschoolers are learning -- such as making predictions and observations -- you also need to set specific goals that speak to the constellation content. If your school uses your state's early learning standards, align your space sciences constellation activities with these benchmark expectations. For example, Pennsylvania's "Learning Standards for Early Childhood" include a preschool science standard for students to identify objects found in the night sky. Teaching constellations should then include identification as a major goal. Additional standards-related concepts for kids in pre-K include comparing and distinguishing celestial objects found in the day and night skies. Include these, and any other standards from your state, in your lesson goals.

2 Read Constellation-Themed Books

Act as a facilitator in your preschool students’ science learning, suggests professor emeritus of special education Ruth Wilson on the website Earlychildhood News. One way to accomplish this is by interactively reading books about constellations. Instead of reading at the preschoolers, engage them with questions or let them make comments. Choose children’s books that include pictures and information such as “The Big Dipper” by Franklyn M. Branley and Molly Coxe, “Seeing Stars” by Dandi Daley Mackall and Claudine Gevry or “Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” by Karl Beckstrand and Luis F. Sanz. Show your students the pictures, point out the stars and ask them to repeat the names of constellations.

3 Secondary Science Inquiry

Direct exploration with materials and objects is essential for preschool inquiry-based science exploration, according to Karen Worth of Massachusetts' Center for Science Education in her article "Science in Early Childhood Classrooms: Content and Process." Studying constellations is problematic when it comes to direct, hands-on experiences. The students can't touch the stars. It's likely that you're teaching preschool during the day, when the children can't see the constellations for themselves. Substitute a secondary source for the real thing to create hands-on science explorations. For example, have students draw constellations from a book using white chalk on dark blue construction paper. Hang the drawings on the ceiling, invite the preschoolers to lie down on the floor and pretend to star gaze. Even though your students can't actually touch a constellation, they can make their own model using foam balls. Paint the spheres to make stars, and then connect them into constellations using straws or wooden dowels.

4 Make Comparisons

If your preschoolers have little knowledge about constellations, start at the most basic place. Look outside and ask them what they see in the sky. Ask if they can see the stars. When they say "no," ask them what is different about the night sky that makes it possible to see the constellations. Compare night and day to help your students figure out when they can see the constellations and why. Next, make comparisons between constellations and other concepts or objects that the students already know. These groups of stars look similar to a connect-the-dot game, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Use a connect-the-dot paper game in which you draw star dots and have the kids connect them to make the constellation concept concrete.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.